Uganda 2013 Crime and Safety Report
Burglary; Theft; Stolen items; Hotels; Financial Security; Fraud; Counterfeiting; Transportation Security; Insurgencies; Religious Terrorism; Human Trafficking; Riots/Civil Unrest; Religious Violence; Floods; Disease Outbreak; Extreme heat/drought; Intellectual Property Rights Infringement; Information Security; Drug Trafficking; Kidnapping; Travel Health and Safety
Africa > Uganda > Kampala
Overall Crime and Safety Situation
The U.S. government rates Uganda as “Critical” for residential crime, “Critical” for non-residential crime, and “High” for terrorism. Uganda continues to improve its security situation by focusing efforts toward combating crime and terrorism. The Ugandan Police Force (UPF) maintains heavy police deployments in metropolitan areas, namely Kampala, to thwart the criminal and terrorist activities. UPF deployment is not as heavy as during the election year of 2011, and efforts are ongoing to “right size” the deployment in Kampala in an effort to professionalize its ranks. However, a comparative analysis of figures from various police/security entities reflects a continuation of inaccurately- or under-reported incidents of crimes.
Criminals are indiscriminant, and crime can occur anywhere and at anytime. There is no widespread anti-American sentiment, nor are Americans singled out as victims of crime. Victimization by criminals is based upon the perception of the victim’s affluence and whether he presents an appealing "target of opportunity."
Common crimes are generally crimes of opportunity rather than planned attacks. The types of opportunistic crimes include, but are not limited to: thefts from vehicles, thefts of property from residences, residential break-ins, strong-armed robberies, pick-pocketing, “snatch and grab” thefts, and theft from hotel rooms. Petty street crime, to include vehicle robberies and vandalism, increased this year despite a continued high deployment of UPF in the metropolitan areas of the country. The U.S. Embassy has also observed, and several employees have experienced, an increase in petty crimes in 2012. Pick-pocketing, “snatch and grab” thefts (including from occupied and unoccupied vehicles), and vehicle vandalism along with other petty and opportunistic crimes were the primary types of activities observed in Kampala. These crimes rarely involve acts of violence.
However, an increase in armed robbery was observed. Crimes that result in violence are more commonly seen when the victim attempts to resist. In 2012, the U.S. Embassy received one report of an American citizen being the victim of sexual assault.
There has also been an increase in financial fraud cases involving credit cards, personal checks and counterfeiting. Credit cards are not accepted at many hotels, restaurants, shops, or other local facilities, although they are accepted at the major chain hotels in Kampala.
Foreign currency should be exchanged in authorized banks, hotels, and other legally authorized outlets, and proper receipts should be obtained for the transactions. Exchange receipts are required to convert unused currency to the original foreign currency. Penalties for exchanging money on the black market range from fines to imprisonment. Counterfeit United States currency is also appearing at a growing rate. Specifically, a $50 note is being expertly counterfeited and passed in large quantities in Kampala and around tourist destinations.
Overall Road Safety Situation
Road conditions differ significantly from those in the United States and other Western countries. The information below is provided for general reference only and may not apply in all circumstances.
Under normal driving conditions, drivers are exposed to inappropriate speed, unpredictable local driving habits, pedestrians and livestock in the roadway, commuter buses that ignore traffic laws, and that are not “road safe” (including lack of brake/indicator lights) and lack basic safety equipment. In some areas, piles of trash, missing manhole covers, gaping ditches and pothole, wayward and oblivious pedestrians, and small animals are threats to vehicular traffic on the streets. In the market areas in Kampala and elsewhere, vendors have taken over the sidewalks and in some cases much of the roadway, forcing pedestrians into the streets. Street signs are lacking in certain areas, adding confusion to the casual traveler. Roads are poorly maintained, inadequately marked, and poorly lit. In rural areas, drivers should expect a lack of adequate guard rails and few traffic signs/road markings. Street lighting is sporadic and of poor quality in Kampala and virtually non-existent outside cities. Drivers should use caution when driving around bends, as it is common for vehicles coming from the other direction to pass slower vehicles or otherwise drive in the middle of the road, even around blind turns. People should only travel outside of Kampala during daylight hours, if possible, and with one or more vehicles due to both the security situation and road conditions. Road travel outside Kampala is dangerous during the day and treacherous at night. Driving hazards at night include broken-down vehicles in the road, pedestrians walking in the road, drunken drivers, stray animals, poor road conditions, and the possibility of armed robbery. Consequently, it is the Embasy’s policy that no official Americans are authorized to travel on roads outside of the Kampala/Entebbe metropolitan area after dark.
The UPF’s efforts in the category of road safety are still an issue of concern. Police enforcement of road safety standards and traffic laws is minimal, but appears to be improving. While general vehicle travel during daylight hours on both paved and unpaved roads is considered relatively safe, the varying conditions of the roadways (including numerous potholes) combined with excessive speed can lead to serious accidents. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Uganda has one of the highest rates of traffic fatalities per vehicle in the world. The general lack of an immediate police/emergency response to traffic accidents often results in delayed emergency service response. As a result, accident victims rely on bystanders as “first responders." For this reason and considering the lack of adequate medical care in the majority of districts in Uganda, travelers should maintain equipment and training to perform first aid. Drivers should be conscious that accidents can draw angry and potentially violent crowds in a very short period. It is recommended that anyone involved in an accident immediately notify the UPF.
Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
Threats from regional terror organizations remain serious not only in Uganda but in East Africa. The government has demonstrated an increased capability to combat terrorist and criminal threats. While Uganda is generally viewed as a safe, secure, and politically stable country, its extensive and porous borders are inadequately policed, allowing for a robust flow of illicit trade and immigration. Rebel groups operate freely in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), posing a potential risk along Uganda’s western border. This was most recently witnessed in the M23 rebel uprising in the eastern Congo. The northern border with South Sudan also has a limited security presence. And, the remoteness of the border with Kenya makes it difficult to police, although, main roads and border crossings may have a consistent police presence.
The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), originally a Ugandan-based rebel group, now operates in eastern DRC. In 2007, the ADF made incursions into western Uganda along the Muzizi River, near Semliki National Park in Bundibugyo district. A military response by the Ugandan government resulted in the killing or capture of ADF fighters. The government is very concerned about this threat and continues to monitor the ADF closely, but most analysts agree the ADF now poses little threat to security.
Most communities in northern Uganda have returned to normalcy following 23 years of insurgency at the hands of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that ended in 2006.
The largest international terrorist threat comes from the Somali al-Shabaab and al-Qai’da East Africa (AQEA). The threat stems in part from Uganda’s support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The twin suicide bombings, in which 76 people were killed, in July 2010 in Kampala was al-Shabaab’s first successful operation outside of Somalia and showed that al-Shabaab is ready, willing, and able to launch attacks outside its base of operations. Al-Shabaab has vowed to continue to attack the interests and citizens of countries supporting AMISOM, to include Uganda and the U.S. The threat posed by al-Qai’da and al-Shabaab will continue for the foreseeable future, but military advances against al-Shabaab in Somalia and the opening of Kenya as a potential target may have diluted the capability of the group to stage attacks in Uganda.
Generally, Uganda does not have a large organized crime element. Organized crime appears in the form of small, organized, criminal activity, such as home invasions. Human trafficking syndicates provide fraudulent identification for intending illegal immigrants to the European Union, but the volume is likely small. As Uganda lacks laws that prevent money laundering, organizations could easily operate with little risk of exposure based on its negligent financial regulatory framework, but thus far none have emerged.
The threat of civil unrest, public protests, strikes, demonstrations, and political violence has been an issue. The U.S. government rates Uganda as “Medium” for political violence. Nevertheless, politically or economically motivated demonstrations can surface with little to no warning. Opposition protests continued into 2012, although on a much lower scale compared to 2011. Protests continue to focus on rising commodity prices, power outages, levies on taxis, and fluctuating interest rates and are likely to persist into the foreseeable future.
Demonstrations occasionally take place in response to world events or local conditions. These demonstrations can often escalate, although intended to be peaceful, if police response is not swift and appropriate. The UPF has shown itself fully capable of maintaining order when the potential for unrest arises.
Religious or Ethnic Violence
Uganda is predominantly Protestant and Roman Catholic, although 12 percent of the population is Muslim. The potential for religious-based protests exists. However, this did not occur on a large scale in 2012. In September 2012, the potential for protests existed as Muslims worldwide were upset about the release of an anti-Muslim video. Through active communication between Muslim leaders, the Inspector General of police, and the U.S. Ambassador, protests were averted, but judging from past demonstrations, police feared that protests could have been widespread and might have resulted in looting under the cover of general chaos. That said, police response was measured and sophisticated. The government and UPF demonstrated their capability to manage civil unrest during September when the government and UPF calmed multiple movements to stage protests against the U.S. in response to the film’s release, which caused an international uproar.
Tribal divisions also exist but are generally transcended by a national identity. The Buganda Kingdom is the largest and most influential ethnic group, and its ceremonial figurehead, known as the Kabaka, is a very powerful person in local politics. Ethnic conflict has not occurred since the deadly Buganda riots in 2009, but the possibility of similar events remains.
Rapid-onset disasters can range from short-term food security crises to flash floods, infectious disease outbreaks, and political crisis/conflict situations. Slow-onset disasters stem primarily from food insecurity due to drought with a number of other factors contributing to root causes.
The vast majority of people in northern Uganda live in rural areas and are engaged primarily in subsistence-based livelihoods, living largely at the mercy of the production capacity of the land and the whims of the weather. For most of the year, these households have little or no cash to purchase food or other essentials from the market, nor do they have any assets to sell to smooth consumption. They typically cultivate very small plots of land and own very few livestock.
Industrial and Transportation Accidents
No specific potential threats from industrial accidents or transportation have been identified, but regulations for the processing and transportation of dangerous chemicals may not not meet U.S. standards and could pose a risk. In addition, training and equipment available to emergency response teams remain inadequate to deal with a major catastrophe of this kind.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) assessed Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards.
Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Thefts
Uganda is not known as a hotbed of innovation, so economic espionage has not appeared on anyone's radar. Counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available. Intellectual property theft is pervasive with respect digital media and the like, and the government puts little or no effort into curbing it. Transactions involving such products are illegal under local law. In addition, bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeitures and/or fines.
Identity theft and privacy issues have not become a major concern. That said, sophisticated crimes like computer and credit card fraud are becoming more frequent, and it stands to reason that identity theft would follow. In a possible indicator of this trend, papers discarded in the Embassy trash are collated and sold in bundles in the city markets. Who buys this commodity and for what reason is unknown, but the possibility of acquiring criminally exploitable information is a likely explanation.
Regional Travel Concerns and Restricted Travel Areas/Zones
Karamoja is the only restricted travel area for Embassy personnel because of logistical difficulties posed by harsh travel conditions and the ongoing threat posed by nomadic cattle herdsmen known as the Karamojong. The military continues to implement a program to disarm Karamajong warriors. Past incidents of violence have included ambushes on military troops and attacks on vehicles, residences, and towns that resulted in multiple deaths. Most of the violence occurred in the districts of Kaabong, Kotido, and Abim, although some violent incidents also occurred in Moroto and Nakapiripirit districts. Although impossible to eliminate, this threat can be mitigated by coordinating support from the local police and military elements prior to regional travel and deploying other counter-measures like body armor/personal protective equipment. U.S. Embassy Kampala has relaxed its travel policy with regards to Karamoja but still requires two-vehicle convoys and personal/vehicular armor when traveling between cities.
Ugandan law strictly prohibits the photographing of military installations, police/military personnel, industrial facilities, government buildings, and infrastructure (such as roads, bridges, dams, and airfields); such sites are rarely marked clearly. Travel guides, police, and officials can advise if a particular site may be photographed. Photographing prohibited sites may result in the confiscation of film and camera.
Uganda does not play a major role in the production, trafficking, or consumption of illicit narcotics or precursor chemicals associated with the drug trade. However, Uganda is strategically located along a major narcotics transit route between Middle Eastern, Asian, and West African heroin markets, and the amount of drugs transiting Uganda is increasing. Illicit narcotics transit Uganda for markets in Africa, Europe, and the United States, primarily due to Uganda's good airline connections between those markets and Asia. Cannabis is grown and is rarely policed, allowing for large cannabis crops to flourish in remote rural areas. Even with an ill-equipped police Drug Investigative Unit, seizures of illicit drugs are up, and illegal exports from Uganda are rising. The Ugandan Counternarcotics Unit maintains an interdiction team at the international airport. Uganda is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
Americans have not been targeted specifically for kidnapping. During this past year, an NGO worker was traveling on Masaka road during a period of heavy military deployment when soldiers pulled the worker over and attempted to hold her child hostage while she traveled to an ATM to retrieve money to pay a bribe. This incident shows that travelers should exercise caution in remote areas, including the borders with DRC and South Sudan.
In September 2008, a group of non-governmental organization (NGO) workers was taken from just south of Arua (in West Nile) into the DRC and held for six hours prior to being released. This highlights how the border region with the DRC is not well patrolled, and rebel groups operating in the DRC have been known to operate make shift check points along the border to extort money from travelers.
While the UPF has made significant strides toward professionalization and modernization, discipline problems, such as corruption and human rights violations, still plague the UPF. The under-reporting of crime is due in large part to insufficient police presence and response capabilities and/or low public perceptions of police investigative abilities. Due to this deficiency, many communities simply do not have means to report crimes, though most experts agree that crime is generally low in provincial towns and rural areas. In addition, when crimes are reported, they are not adequately documented in any sort of standardized reporting format.
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
Persons violating Uganda's laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. If you are a victim of crime, you should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy in Kampala. This includes the loss or theft of a U.S. passport. Although the investigation and prosecution of a crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line is “999,” but the emergency response is not equivalent to an emergency response in the U.S. Generally, reporting a crime directly to nearest the police station will result in a quicker emergency response than relying on dialing “999.”
Various Police/Security Agencies
General Duty Police is the largest police presence and is tasked with providing general law and order functions. General Duty Police maintain most of the various police posts throughout the country and are the operational arm of the UPF. There are many other units within the UPF, to include: the Counter Terrorism Police, VIP Protection Unit, Criminal Intelligence Division, Forensics Division, Traffic Police, Marine Police, Tourism Police, and newly created Fuel Police to guard oil exploration sites in western Uganda. These units fill specific functions and perform limited duties related to their specialty.
Other security elements include the Internal Security Organization, which is the equivalent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Special Forces Command, which is a paramilitary unit that provides protective security to the president and other Cabinet-level officials. It is similar to the United States Secret Service.
Health facilities are very limited and are generally inadequate outside the capital. Even the best hospitals in Kampala suffer from inadequate facilities, antiquated equipment, and shortages of supplies (particularly medicines). Visitors are advised to carry their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines, as well as a doctor's note describing the medication. There is a shortage of physicians, and emergency assistance is limited. Quality psychiatric services are almost nonexistent.
Contact Information for Recommended Local Hospitals and Clinics
International Hospital Kampala, 24 Namuwongo, Kampala, 0312 200 400 (Dr. Ian Clarke)
The Surgery, 2 Acacia Avenue, Kololo, Kampala, 0414 256 003, Mobile 0772 256 003, Emergency Service (Mobile) 0752 756 003, Ambulance Service 0772 756 003.
Nakasero Hospital, 14 Akii-Bua Road, Nakasero, Kampala, 0414 346 150/2. Website: www.nakaserohospital.com
Recommended Air Ambulance Services
Serious illnesses and injuries often require travelers to be medically evacuated to a location where adequate medical attention is available. Such medevac services are available locally but can be very expensive and are generally available only to travelers who either have travel insurance that covers medevac services or who are able to pay in advance the considerable cost of such services (often in excess of US $40,000). The State Department strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to determine whether the policy applies overseas and whether it covers emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.
CDC Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance
During 2012, Ebola outbreaks in the Kibale district, approximately 250 kilometers northwest of Kampala, and the Luwero district, 40 kilometers north of Kampala, claimed approximately 26 lives.
In addition, there have been cases of Marburg hemorrhagic fever in the Kabale district of southwest Uganda, resulting in 15 deaths.
A few cases of black plague occurred in 2012 but on a smaller scale and isolated to upcountry villages with poor sanitation and access to medical care.
Government management of these outbreaks has been impressive, but travelers should be aware of the heightened threat posed by infectious disease. The government has done a good job of informing the public of outbreaks.
Malaria is prevalent, especially in rural regions. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and explain to the health care provider their travel history and which anti-malarial medicine they have been taking.
Travelers should also avoid swimming in any lakes, rivers, or still bodies of water. All bodies of water have been found to contain parasites, including schistosomiasis. Uganda has had outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea, cholera, typhoid, and other bacterial diarrhea in the recent past, and the conditions for reoccurrences continue to exist in both urban and rural settings.
For additional health guidance, please visit the CDC at: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/uganda.htm.
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Crime
Skimming, which is a practice to capture personal identification information from ATM terminals, has increased as is targeting Westerners. This scam has been primarily orchestrated by Eastern Europeans in other East African nations but could spread to Uganda.
Areas to be Avoided and Best Security Practices
U.S. government personnel are restricted from traveling to the northeastern (Karamoja) districts due to cattle rustling, armed banditry, and attacks on vehicles. Visitors are advised to avoid travel to the Karamoja region. Any travel to Karamoja (excluding charter flights to Kidepo National Park) by U.S. Embassy personnel must first be authorized by the Chief of Mission.
Visitors are strongly advised to review their personal safety and security posture, to remain vigilant, and to lower their public profile when frequenting public places and landmarks. Visitors are advised to beware of unattended baggage or packages left in any location, including in mini-buses and private taxis. Exercise caution when visiting crowded areas such as large open-air trading markets. Walking alone after dark is not advisable.
Visitors should limit the amount of cash they carry and leave valuables, such as passports, jewelry, and airline tickets in a hotel safe or other secure place. Visitors should carry only the items and cash that they are willing to lose and keep wallets and other valuables where they will be less susceptible to pick-pockets.
Visitors should be cautious at all times when traveling on roads. There have been reports of highway robbery, including carjacking, by armed bandits outside urban areas. Some incidents have been accompanied by violence. Visitors are cautioned to limit road travel outside towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible.
Avoid demonstrations if possible, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any demonstration. Staying current with media coverage of local events, continually evaluating one's surroundings, and planning to avoid conflict will usually mitigate these risks. Developing communication strategies on security issues with local staff can provide an early warning system for demonstrations, as local staff generally consume all local media and can tap into informal information networks.
Organizations and individuals living and operating in Uganda should take measures protect personally identifiable information and sensitive records.
Monitoring the press and following common sense instructions on the State Department and CDC websites for dealing with infectious diseases will significantly mitigate, if not eliminate, your exposure.
U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information
Embassy/Consulate Address and Hours of Operation
Plot 1577 Ggaba Road, P.O. Box 7007, Kampala
Switchboard: +256 414-306-001
American Citizen Services (non-emergency) workign hours: Monday and Wednesday 0730-1200, and Friday 0730-1100.
Embassy/Consulate Contact Numbers
Marine Guard (24 Hours): +256 414-306-001 Ext 6207
Entrance visas can be obtained at the airport or land port-of-entry, but to avoid possible confusion or delays, travelers are advised to obtain a valid Ugandan visa at the nearest Ugandan Embassy prior to arrival. For more information on entry and exit requirements, consult the Country Specific Information for Uganda at the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs website: http://travel.state.gov.
OSAC Country Council Information
An OSAC Country Council has been established in Uganda (http://kampala.osac.gov). For more information, or for advice and assistance on crime and safety, please contact the Regional Security Office (RSO) at the contact information listed above.